Opioid Toxicity Workup

Updated: Oct 21, 2021
  • Author: Everett Stephens, MD; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
  • Print

Laboratory Studies

Drug screens are widely available but rarely alter clinical management in uncomplicated overdoses. Drug screens are most sensitive when performed on urine. Positive results are observed up to 36-48 hours postexposure, but wide variations are possible depending upon test sensitivity, dose, route, and the patient's metabolism.

In patients with moderate-to-severe toxicity, performing the following baseline studies is appropriate:

  • Complete blood cell count
  • Comprehensive metabolic panel
  • Creatine kinase level
  • Arterial blood gas determinations

Imaging Studies

Obtain chest radiographs if acute lung injury is suspected. Abdominal films may be helpful when evaluating a suspected body stuffer or body packer. Although the body stuffer (ie, a person who quickly swallows drug packages in an effort to hide evidence from police) is more prone to toxicity from hasty preparation, body packers (ie, individuals who carefully seal large amounts of drugs in packages and then swallow them for transport) have much larger amounts of drug liberated should their packages leak. Films suggestive of ingestion are helpful in making a diagnosis, but films negative for drug packages do not rule out potentially life-threatening ingestions. [34]



An ECG should be obtained on all patients with intentional overdose (possible cardiotoxic co-ingestants) or those with significant toxicity.